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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ukrainian forces are conserving ammunition, yet House Republicans intend to spend weeks deliberating additional assistance

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WASHINGTON — The skies of Ukraine are filled with drones that lack ammunition. Russian‌ artillery, from safe distances, rain down lethal volleys on the ⁤Ukrainian troops⁣ who are unable to ⁢retaliate due to shortages of ammo and supplies. ⁣This situation is causing Ukraine to‍ lose ground to Moscow, ‌a ‍concern that U.S. congressional leaders are​ voicing. However, the Republican-dominated House seems to be in no rush⁤ to provide Ukraine with the much-needed military aid.

Officials across Washington are growing increasingly concerned about the decline ⁢in ammunition shipments. It’s ⁣been over two ​months‍ since​ the U.S.,​ often referred to as the “Arsenal⁤ of Democracy” since World War II, last dispatched military supplies to Ukraine.

Despite the Senate passing a $95 billion foreign ⁤aid package, House Speaker Mike Johnson seems intent on steering his own course. This decision could potentially delay the aid ‌package for several more weeks, adding​ to the already lengthy⁣ wait in Congress.

Due to⁤ the halt in U.S. military shipments, Ukrainian forces had to retreat ‍from the eastern city of Avdiivka last month. The city’s defenders, despite being‍ outnumbered, had managed to resist a Russian assault for ⁢four months. The delay in Western military‌ support is making⁤ the job ⁣of Kyiv’s military strategists more difficult, forcing troops to ration ammunition and leading to the ‌loss of Ukrainian soldiers’ lives.

“The fate ⁣of Ukraine hinges‌ on the aid they receive. If they ‍get the aid, they will triumph. If they don’t,⁤ they will ‍be defeated — and this will have ‌serious implications for the United States,” warned Senate Majority Leader Chuck‌ Schumer⁣ during his recent visit‌ to ⁤Ukraine.

Defense⁢ officials are considering various options, including possibly using existing ‌stockpiles before Congress approves funding to replenish them, according to Sen. Jack Reed, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a recent White ⁢House meeting, ⁤President Joe Biden, the top two Democrats in Congress,​ and⁤ Senate Republican Leader Mitch⁤ McConnell all urged Johnson to consider a Senate-approved package that would provide $60 billion in assistance⁣ to Kyiv.

However, the Republican speaker has so​ far declined.

Johnson, a‌ Louisiana Republican ⁣who has been speaker for just four months, is facing ‌intense pressure from all sides. The leaders of 23 European parliaments have⁣ signed an open letter urging him to pass the aid.⁣ Within ‍his own ⁣House⁣ ranks, senior Republicans are growing impatient with the⁤ lack of action, while some far-right members⁢ have threatened to try to remove him from leadership⁤ if‌ he advances the aid for Kyiv.

“The House is actively ‌considering options on a path⁤ forward, ‍but‍ our first responsibility is‍ to⁢ fund the government and our primary, overriding responsibility — and it has been for the last three ‌years — has been to secure the border,” Johnson stated at a ⁣news ⁤conference.

Johnson defended his stance on Ukraine by stating that ‍the House had only received​ the funding legislation ‍in mid-February after the Senate took four months to negotiate, including enforcement policies⁣ at the U.S.-Mexico border. The deal on border security ⁣quickly fell‍ apart after Republicans, ‌including⁢ Johnson, criticized the proposal as insufficient. Yet Johnson and​ other House Republicans are once again hoping⁣ to secure some policy wins on border security.

During his visit ⁣to Congress late ⁢last year, Ukrainian President⁢ Volodymyr Zelenskyy‌ told Johnson that‌ the military aid would ​last until February. However, as Congress entered March, Johnson⁣ has so far allowed House members to ‍craft⁢ their own ‌proposals and has‍ revealed little about his plans for the package.

“We’re beyond the ⁣time⁣ frame⁤ that ​this should have taken, this analysis and careful consideration by the House should ‌have been ​completed before the end⁢ of the year or ‍very shortly after the new year,” said Rep.‍ French Hill, an Arkansas Republican.

Hill and several other senior ‍Republicans‌ are urging Johnson to act by crafting a new national security package in ⁣the House. This bill, ​which ⁤is being drafted by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and key appropriators, is expected⁤ to be less than the $95 billion Senate package but include many similar provisions — including money ⁢that‍ Ukraine, Israel, and⁣ Indo-Pacific​ allies​ could use ‍to ⁤purchase U.S. military equipment, as well as some humanitarian assistance.

The bill may also include a version of the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and⁤ Opportunity for Ukrainians, or REPO Act, which would allow the U.S. to tap frozen Russian central‌ bank⁢ assets to compensate Ukraine for ​damages ​from the invasion, Hill said. He ​believes it would save taxpayer dollars in the long run and help gain Republican votes in the House.

“This is more⁢ a​ matter of ‍finding‍ out⁢ the way to move forward,” said seasoned Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the Rules⁤ committee. “But a substantial majority of ⁤both houses of ⁣Congress wants to help Ukraine. You had ‍70 over there,” he​ said about the robust Senate support, “and⁣ the vote ⁣here ⁣will be ‌well north of 300.”

Rep. Annie⁣ Kuster of New Hampshire, who leads a caucus of centrist Democrats called ‍New Dems, said many‍ in‍ her party are ready to help Johnson pass a military aid package if he brings it to the floor. But she said the bill already passed by the Senate would have the broadest support.

“We’re at ‌a critical moment right‌ now, and I encourage Speaker Johnson to work⁤ with us,” Kuster said. “He has such a slim majority.”

Meanwhile, any decision⁣ by the Pentagon to send Ukraine weapons before Congress approves funding is fraught with risk. Since there is no ‍money to replenish ‍the equipment and weapons sent, the military would be‌ depleting its stockpiles ​and potentially risking harm to unit readiness ⁤for‍ war.

Furthermore, there are⁢ concerns that action from⁣ the ‍Pentagon could dissuade⁢ Congress ⁤from moving quickly‍ on the funding bill.

Reed said it ​would make more sense for Congress to pass ‌the supplemental package,‌ because then the Pentagon “could immediately order the equipment they’re drawing down. ⁣We run the risk without that of drawing down the equipment and‍ not being able to replace it⁢ or being‌ confident of replacement.”

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